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poopnest's avatar

Why were people so horrible to each other in the 1800's?

Asked by poopnest (261 points ) November 5th, 2011

People in 19th Century America during the 1800’s “Wild West” were so horrible to each other despite the fact that they had more or less modern comforts such as houses, grocery, agriculture, the ability to travel and communicate across distances and some medical technology available. Essentially, I’m asking why did people behave in a such ruthless and lawless fashion during this time?
Could you buy into the explanation that since they had just gotten through the Civil War many of them were left with PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) or other painful physical and mental scars which caused people to be generally dysfunctional during the “Wild West”? Perhaps they did not know how to cope with the social and emotional aftermath.

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12 Answers

Pheasant's avatar

Can’t buy into no PTSD idea. Don’t really buy into the idea that they were so horrible to each other then, neither. No more worse then any other time or place in history, anyway.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

People were always and are still horrible to each other. Nothing diff about the 1800s, people aren’t horrible to each other based on whether they have things or not.

Coloma's avatar

SOME people groups, religions, governments have always been “horrible” to each other in varying degrees since time immemorial.

There is no news under the sun.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

I am pretty sure in the 1900’s a bunch of German folk got really nasty for awhile. I also think I read somewhere in the United States, they turned fire hoses and hunting dogs on children marching peacefully. Also some bad stuff happened in China and Japan.

Human behavior does not change over time that radically.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I actually like your premise. After all, the country was torn apart. The time after may have affected the psyche of society… much like a child is affected by the breakup of parents.

Some believe there was a rise in religiosity of the collective consciousness after 911.

Same can be said for the Civil Rights movement or the aftermath of Vietnam.

Interesting premise. I can’t conclude either way. But what you present is interesting.

Kardamom's avatar

I’m curious as to why you focused in on the “Wild West” in the U.S. of the 1800’s. There is now and was then, awful things going on.Not only back then in the 1800’s, but last week, in the 1940’s and clear back in the Middle Ages. There have always been cases of genocide and war and brutality towards groups that were/are deemed inferior and unacceptable. Gays, women, children, Christians, non Christians, non whites, poor people. Powerful, greedy people have always existed and they almost always do terrible things to other people. Look around the world and read your history books.

CWOTUS's avatar

Why don’t you start by making the documented case that “people were so horrible to each other” at this particular period in (U.S.) history… as opposed to other eras.

I guess we can agree without a huge case being made that there were widespread cases of genocidal and near genocidal warfare and oppression: whites vs. Native American, Jim Crow laws and the rise of the Klan, etc. But aside from ethnic clashes, do you want to make a case for white-on-white, inter-tribal warfare among indigenous populations, or black-on-black crime?

I think I could make a pretty good case that black-on-black crime today rivals or surpasses anything you can document from non-Hollywood intra-ethnic crime in the 1800s.

poopnest's avatar

@Kardamom
I just finished watching “The Assassination of Jessie James By The Coward Robert Ford”. I find it interesting that the 1800’s are almost always portrayed in a stark light in the history books, documentaries and movies alike. Also, I have a strong affinity toward the history of the United States since I am a citizen here. I am looking at this particular time through the lens that people could have had a happier existence if only the Civil War had not occurred because perhaps people were left scarred in the wake.
If our country went to war with itself right now and you happened to survive it, do you think you would adjust well to changes after the fact? How do you suppose people would react to the task of rebuilding and stabilizing the country? Specifically, what makes people living in the United States back then different from us now? If I could step back in time and observe circumstances of that time in person I think I would find myself infinitely fascinated. I experience history is a disconnected study because I can never go back to whatever time sparks my imagination and simply ask the people there, “How’s life” or “what’s going on today” or “what do you think about this or that occurrence”. I haven’t quite made sense out of the reactions of people during this particular period and that is strictly why I have inquired. If I could, I would go back with a world renowned genius psychologist and even an economist and really take this inquiry to task. It would be amazing! :D

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

People are still pretty horrible to each other.

poopnest's avatar

I had no inclination that people can be pretty horrible even to this day. Seriously, I enjoyed reading the more thought out and challenging posts.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@poopnest No inclination? Where are you from? Do you not pay attention to world events? Know what genocide is? Ever heard of Darfur? Somalia? Honor killings, etc. etc… My response was well thought out. Just short and to the point. People can be just as horrible now. They even have more efficient ways to do each other in and to take advantage of each other.

john65pennington's avatar

Lack of proper law enforcement played a key role in their lives. There was one U.S. Marshal that covered a vast amount of territory. When a crime was committed, it took the U. S. Marshal two or three days to arrive at the crime scene. Most physical evidence had already destroyed, by the time the deputy arrived. Having a local sheriff was a shot in the dark, when it came to vices of their own and their deputies.

The lifestyle, in the 1800s, was mainly without law enforcement, to say the least.

The people knew of the law enforcement situation, back then, and more or less took the law into their own hands.

This is why most of the people wore handguns on their side.

I do not blame them.

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